Asked & Answered with Megan Quattlebaum, director of the CSG Justice Center

By Katy Albis and Amelia Vorpahl

Serving as the second director since the inception of the CSG Justice Center 20 years ago, Megan Quattlebaum brings experience and passion to her role in advancing sound criminal justice policy and practice across the country. Hear from Megan about her experience as director of the CSG Justice Center, what she recounts as some of her most significant accomplishments and what excites her about the future of the Justice Center.

What was it like starting in your position at the CSG Justice Center, and how have you seen the organization evolve over time — both internally and in its external work?

One thing that was exciting to me was being part of a membership organization with active participation from all 50 states. For many types of policy, but especially criminal justice, the states are central to what can and will happen. I also appreciated that CSG is a three-branch organization because each branch has a vital role to play in the conversation about criminal justice policy and practice. Even if you’re talking about legislation, you need the folks who are going to implement that legislation brought in and excited, so you know it can make it over the inevitable bumps in the road that come when you’re putting an idea into practice. I was also really excited about the CSG Justice Center being a bipartisan organization. Working in a consensus-based way is key to stability and sustainability.

Particularly over the past few years, we’ve taken steps to make sure we’re centering racial equity in all we do. Racial disparities in the criminal justice system exist in every jurisdiction whose data we’ve ever analyzed and at multiple decision points. It’s really exciting to see our members not accepting that but wanting to change it. We’re working hard to be ready to support them with data analysis and policy ideas responsive to this challenge. We’ve also looked inward to make sure that we’re working in a way that’s inclusive and inviting to colleagues of color and that we have a workplace that’s diverse, equitable and inclusive. We can’t help other folks and not work on those issues within our own organization.

In the end, we always try to be responsive to what states need in the current moment. Our commitment to consensus and finding out how we can serve and support our members in the states — those are things that have not changed and will not change.

You came on as director succeeding someone who founded the organization as it exists today and had been in the position for more than 15 years. How did you make that role your own?

Founding directors are tough acts to follow, and Mike Thompson even more so than most. I think everyone who knows Mike thinks he’s brilliant. With that in mind, I figured I had two choices: self-consciously compare myself to Mike and worry about whether I was measuring up or try to release the idea that measuring up to Mike was the job. I’m proud of myself for choosing the second path — at least 95% of the time — I’m human! I try to remember that his job was to build the organization we have today, while my job is to enrich and sustain it.

Every day, I try to picture two specific people in my mind: first, a person I know who has been involved with the criminal or juvenile justice systems — including those who have been victimized by a crime or committed one or worked in the system — and second, a person who works for us.

For the former, I try to make sure that we are giving everything we have to supporting the systems they’re in to be the best they can be. Lives depend on it. For the latter, I try to make sure we all remember that the most impactful career in service is not the one that burns hot for a few years and then burns out. We need to support people to do this work for a lifetime. And that means supporting them to support themselves — to take breaks, to spend time with family and friends, to enjoy this life.

What are some of the things you are most proud of from your time at the CSG Justice Center?

One thing I’m proud of is how we’ve modernized our approach to communications through things like our newsletters and virtual Justice Briefing Live events. We’ve made ourselves accessible to new audiences.

I’ve also been excited to add new skills that allow us to take our data analysis and research to the next level. For example, I see in our field an increasing recognition of the ways in which probation and parole outcomes drive prison admissions and populations. I think our research division and their work on revocations played a key part in that.

In terms of initiatives, I’m very excited about our new Reentry 2030 campaign. We’ve increasingly seen how important it is that states focus on building reentry systems and supports that are equitable. Having folks who have experienced reentry firsthand in this conversation from the beginning has been very important to help us remember that each person has unique needs and challenges.

Through the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and other programs, we can provide jurisdictions with data analysis in a really deep way. Justice Counts and other initiatives we’ve started recently, like Lantern, recognize that states need that up-to-date data about their systems not just over the course of a project with us, but every day.

How does the CSG Justice Center fit into the criminal justice policy landscape? What is its unique role?

One thing that is not as known about us is how much we partner with other organizations. We bring partner organizations into our projects to make sure they’re as rich and effective as they should be.

Another thing that makes us unique is tied into our 20th anniversary. If you look at our first publication — the “Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project” report — at the time it was issued, it was cutting-edge. While the conversation about the connections between the criminal justice system and folks with mental health needs is happening on a broader scale now, we were very early to that conversation.

From its earliest days, the CSG Justice Center was keyed into the message that you cannot and should not rely on the criminal justice system to solve all social problems. You need cross-systems partners at the table. We’ve invested in having a staff with interdisciplinary knowledge and skills from the beginning.

Tell us about your vision for the next chapter of the CSG Justice Center. What do you hope the next 20 years will bring?

Twenty years ago, people weren’t using the word ‘reentry.’ We have had a role in making ‘reentry’ a household word. I see our next 20 years as another two decades of making new things possible.

In 20 years, if we’ve done our jobs right, states will have accurate and up-to-date data to help drive their criminal justice decision-making in a way they don’t today. People experiencing a mental or behavioral health crisis will have multiple, easy-to-find pathways into treatment and supports that will help them stay safe and out of the justice system. And we’ll have found better ways to support the 95% of kids whose involvement with the juvenile justice system starts with a nonviolent offense.

I’m hopeful the culture of community supervision agencies will continue to evolve to focus on how best to support success, and that states will set specific goals around ensuring that when people leave prison, they are safely housed, connected to work and education and getting whatever treatment they need. I’m also optimistic that state programs that support people who have been victims of crime will be better positioned to reach the people who need those supports the most.

Any closing thoughts?

On a personal note, having the privilege of working with a group that is diverse in so many ways — race, gender, politics, geography, professional training — I now believe more than ever that leaders have to surround themselves with people who are different from them. If you’re not talking honestly with people who are different from you about the challenges your organization faces and potential solutions, you are making bad decisions.

Also, after more than four years in this role, I find that my respect and admiration for the CSG Justice Center’s staff, advisory board and partners somehow continue to grow. Even when I think I couldn’t possibly be more impressed, our team makes something seemingly impossible possible, and I’m in awe all over again. I am very lucky to be where I am.

Editor’s note: responses have been edited for length and clarity.

This article appeared in the CSG Capitol Ideas magazine (2022, Issue 4). View current and past issues at csg.org/publications/capitol-ideas.

Called to Serve

Tennessee Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Marie Williams chairs the CSG Justice Center Advisory Board.

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Private: Explainer: Creating Housing Opportunities for People with Complex Health Needs Leaving the Justice System

With an affordable housing crisis across the U.S., it is increasingly critical for jurisdictions to expand their housing supply to meet community needs. However, local leaders often grapple with the question of who is prioritized in these expansion efforts as they develop their housing strategies.

This is for a number of reasons. For starters, there is a compelling argument to be made for why many different populations need more housing opportunities, making it difficult to prioritize. Even when leaders are clear on who should be prioritized, however, they can face significant local pushback, whether financial or political, when attempting to develop housing options that prioritize groups that involve people with criminal records and/or complex health needs.

To support jurisdictions seeking solutions to these concerns, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) hosted a series of virtual Communities of Practice in 2021 and a follow up webinar series in 2022. These virtual sessions brought together teams of state and local leaders from across the justice, housing, behavioral health, and other systems, where they received training and assistance to help them implement community and state-level strategies to increase housing with supportive services.

In the first of a series of web articles lifting up themes from these sessions, here are five questions local leaders often face when wanting to create new, equitable housing opportunities for people with complex health needs who are leaving the criminal justice system:

1. Why is it important for leaders to create new, equitable housing units specifically for this population?

The affordable housing crisis makes one thing clear: there are not enough units available to meet the needs of most communities. This is even before factoring in the stigma and additional barriers that many people with criminal records and behavioral health needs face or the effects of redlining and on-going discrimination in the housing market that have limited the amount of housing available to Black and Hispanic Americans.

However, communities that invest in housing paired with supportive services (such as case management, mental health treatment, and supported employment) tend to see increased community stability, increased engagement with community-based providers, and a reduction in returns to incarceration. Indeed, research shows that housing is essential to reentry and public safety. New housing opportunities often provide vital support and stability for people with complex health needs (i.e., mental health needs, substance use disorders, serious physical health conditions), who tend to have higher rates of homelessness compared to the general population.

2. Are new units the only way to create additional housing opportunities for this population?

No; strategies to increase housing opportunities can also include lowering policy barriers and increasing access to existing public and private housing units. However, without additional units, most communities will face problems meeting their housing demand even if they have implemented other housing strategies. New housing units, supported by (1) rental assistance to keep units affordable and (2) community-based interventions to help people stay in their housing, are the most effective ways to ensure greater access to housing for people who have historically been de-prioritized, and in some cases, regulated, out of housing access.

How can local communities lay the groundwork for new supportive housing?

Jurisdictions can start by securing funding and community support to construct, redevelop, or subsidize new housing. From large multifamily buildings to studio apartments in converted garages, this can look like the following:

Cultivating partnerships across different systems to generate mutual understanding, identify common goals, and align funding. Cross-system partnerships are particularly important for local housing development due to the complex nature of development for even a single building (such as securing multiple funding sources, obtaining community approvals, managing competing expectations, or meeting different supportive service needs). Local development partnerships should reflect the communities where they intend to build housing, ideally including:

Representatives from community-based organizations,
Housing developers,
People who may reside in the new housing or otherwise have lived experience of homelessness or involvement in the justice system,
Potential funders (e.g., banks, hospitals, health plans, faith-based groups),
Organizations with experience in housing finance (such as Community Development Corporations),
Housing or criminal justice agency leadership or staff,
And advocacy organizations.

Conducting readiness assessments to help identify strengths and gaps in a proposed development team and process. Getting housing built and prioritized for people with complex health needs leaving the justice system requires technical knowledge of housing development, identification of rental assistance for operating expenses, and supportive services. Some questions to consider during a readiness assessment include:

What mutual goals exist among partner organizations?
What financial capacity does the developer or housing provider have to create new housing opportunities?
How can the jurisdiction ensure racial equity in decisions concerning where housing gets built and who is eligible and referred to it?
What plans are in place to sustain operating expenses and supportive services?

Gaining buy-in from local community members to ensure maximum community support. Ways to gain buy-in can include:

Hosting open houses,
Communicating the benefits of new housing to potential neighbors and people who will live in them, and
Highlighting how housing affordability is a community-wide problem that needs a community-wide solution.

4. How can states support cross-system approaches to increase the supply of supportive housing?

State policymakers can align their processes, funding, and policies to create dedicated pipelines that support new housing prioritized for this population while also working to advance racial equity and reduce systemic barriers. This can look like the following:

Establishing governance structures to help local leaders set up cross-agency, cross-system collaborative bodies. These structures can be used to set concrete expectations about roles and responsibilities across agencies and systems and to determine who is included, where funding comes from, and how decisions are made.
Dedicating funding to enable a sustained, long-term pipeline for prioritizing new housing for people with complex needs leaving the justice system. State policymakers can critically support these efforts by identifying different funding streams, pooling resources together, or issuing joint funding Requests for Proposals that prioritize groups or developers focused on housing this population.
Reducing access barriers to new and existing housing. This includes:

Revising screening policies to minimize criminal record barriers unrelated to suitability as a tenant;
Using data analysis and the expertise of people with lived experience to evaluate racial equity in assessment processes and the physical location of newly constructed housing;
Reviewing sentencing standards and release conditions for disproportionate impacts; and
Implementing landlord recruitment strategies, such as incentive funds or education campaigns, to increase access to existing units.

5. How can states leverage the American Rescue Plan or other federal funding to create more housing?

States can typically use these funding streams to pilot new programs or new housing development efforts that will need to be fully sustained over time. For example, Colorado (a presenter in the Community of Practice) used BJA Second Chance Act funding to launch a systems-wide approach to support housing development in the state. With the grant, Colorado’s state and local partners began their efforts by creating a small supportive housing program. After proving their model successful over several years, the program sustainably scaled up efforts into multiple, state-wide pipelines of new housing and supportive services.

For further information, states and local leaders can visit the following resources:

Action Points: Four Steps to Expand Access to Housing for People in the Justice System with Behavioral Health Needs: This brief presents four steps state leaders should take to increase housing opportunities and improve justice and health outcomes for people in the justice system with behavioral health needs.
Thinking Outside the Box Housing Webinar Series: Cross-Sector Strategies to Create Housing Opportunities for People with Behavioral Health Needs Leaving the Justice System
Center for Justice and Mental Health Partnerships: This support center provides free assistance and consultation to improve outcomes for people with mental health conditions and co-occurring substance use disorders in the criminal justice system.
CSH – Dimensions of Quality Supportive Housing: This publication provides strategies to build the capacity of supportive and affordable housing developers and managers to create and operate high-quality, effective, and sustainable units.

 

Photo by PhotoMIX Company via Pexels.com

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U.S Senate Approves the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act. Companion Legislation Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives

This week, the Senate passed by unanimous consent the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act of 2022, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). This bipartisan legislation, which was also introduced in the House by U.S. Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Tom Emmer (R-MN), would expand and improve upon the success of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA) to give the country’s criminal justice and mental health systems the tools they need to serve some of their most vulnerable individuals.

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP), which is authorized under MIOTCRA, was created by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in 2006 as a critical way to support this legislation. JMHCP’s mission, then and now, has been to unify justice and health partners around one common goal: increasing public safety by connecting more people with mental health needs to safe and effective treatment.

“The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center is a strong supporter of JMHCP and applauds the Senate for unanimously passing the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act of 2022,” said Megan Quattlebaum, director of the CSG Justice Center. “Leaders in law enforcement, courts, corrections, and the mental health community understand the importance of working together to develop solutions that address the behavioral health needs of individuals before they enter the criminal justice system in the first place. I want to thank members of the House and Senate for their leadership on this important issue.”

Collectively, state and local governments use JMHCP grants for a broad range of activities, including establishing diversion programs, creating or expanding community-based treatment programs, supporting the development of curricula for police academies and orientations, and providing in-jail treatment and transitional services. Additionally, grant funds may be used to train law enforcement on identifying and improving their responses to people experiencing a mental health crisis. MIOTCRA was reauthorized in 2008 and again in 2016 with bipartisan support.

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act of 2022 will:

Strengthen support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;
Support diversion programming and training for state and local prosecutors;
Strengthen support for co-responder teams;
Support the integration of 988 into the existing public safety system;
Amend allowable uses for grant funds to include suicide prevention in jails and information-sharing between mental health systems and jails/prisons;
Amend allowable uses to include case management services and supports; and
Clarify that crisis intervention teams can be placed in 911 call centers.

Following Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)’s introduction of the bill in the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on May 12 by voice vote. “Because of the original law, state and local governments have been able to set up and fund mental health courts, specialized first responder options, in-facility treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, and intervention for [juveniles],” said Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in a prepared statement. “These programs have proven effective, and S. 3846 continues this track record.”

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Reauthorization Act has been endorsed by Addiction Policy Forum, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Jail Association, American Probation and Parole Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, Miami Center for Mental Health and Recovery, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Counties, National Association of Police Organizations, National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Conference of State Legislatures, National Criminal Justice Association, National District Attorneys Association, National League of Cities, National Sheriffs’ Association, and Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, among other organizations.

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